Three Demonstrators Shot During Violent Protest in SEZ

A security guard shot three female shoe factory workers yesterday, leaving one in critical condition, after violence erupted during a protest for higher wages at a Svay Rieng province Special Economic Zone (SEZ), local authorities and factory workers said.

The women were shot in front of the Taiwanese-owned Kaoway Sports factory, which supplies shoes to German sportswear brand PUMA, when some 4,000 workers from three different factories at the SEZ joined together and began to riot during their demonstration for a raise to their monthly salary.

PUMA announced in a statement that it would launch its own investigation into the shooting at the Manhattan Special Economic Zone, which left a 21-year-old worker in critical condition after a bullet pierced her left lung.

Keo Sokhorn, the deputy police chief of Bavet City, said that although the gunman had been wearing the uniform of a security guard, police still had not identified the man or determined whether he was in fact a guard at the industrial park.

“The gunman who shot at the workers is not a police officer,” Mr. Sokhorn said. “They were wearing the uniforms of security guards, but we don’t know who they are, and police are still investigating,” he said, declining to comment further.

Ros Phalrith, provincial deputy administration chief, denied the workers’ claims that provincial and Bavet City police who were present at the demonstration had allowed the gunman to escape.

“The police officers were trying to protect themselves from the protesters throwing rocks. Right now, they are making an effort to arrest the gunman,” said Mr. Phalrith, adding that six police officers were injured during the clash with the protesting factory workers.

At around 9 am, the protesting workers from Kaoway, Taiwanese wetsuit manufacturer Sheico, and Hong Kong shoe factory Kingmaker Footwear started throwing rocks at the Kaoway factory building, protestors said. According to four Kaoway factory workers who witnessed the shooting, five security guards arrived at the scene of the protest shortly after the stone throwing began, and one of the guards started shooting.

“Five security guards with uniforms came out from a Camry car and one had a handgun that he shot at the workers,” said Uk Sam Oeun, 31, who witnessed the shooting. “One [protestor] was seriously injured, and the other two had minor injuries,” Ms. Sam Oeun said.

After the security guard shot the protestors, police officers monitoring the demonstration did not attempt to stop him and the other security guards who got in their car and drove away, all four eyewitnesses said.

“Twenty minutes [after the shooting of the protestors], about 10 police officers tried to disperse protesters by shooting their rifles 20 times into the air,” Ms. Sam Oeun said.

“The gunmen were wearing gray security guard uniforms… After they fled, police officers came to shoot into the air to threaten protesters to leave the site,” said Srey Ra, 18, another one of the witnesses.

Prak Saran, provincial coordinator at rights group Adhoc, identified the injured women as Nuth Sokhorn, 23, who was shot in the back; the bullet came out through her chest, and entered her arm. Keo Ny, 18, sustained a minor wound to her right hand. Both women are recovering at private clinics in Bavet City and Svay Rieng City, Mr. Saran said.

The most seriously injured Bun Chenda, 21, is in a critical condition after a bullet entered the left side of her chest. She was transferred late yesterday from Svay Rieng Provincial Referral Hospital to Phnom Penh’s Calmette Hospital, said Dr. Kuch Sitha, deputy director of the provincial hospital.

“We are preparing to send the victim to Phnom Penh’s Calmette Hospital because we are concerned about her safety after the final surgery caused blood and air to flow into her lungs,” said Dr. Sitha prior to the victim’s move to Phnom Penh. “We cannot predict what her chance of surviving is,” he said.

Reacting to the shooting, PUMA said in a statement that factory management had evacuated all personnel from the premises and sent workers home after the shooting. The company also said it would be launching its own investigation into the incident.

“PUMA takes this incident very seriously and will take all measures to ensure that the safety of its supplier factory workers is paramount,” the statement said. PUMA has previously come under fire from human rights groups due to a series of mass faintings that have occurred in its supplier factories.

According to its website, the Taiwanese-owned Manhattan Special Economic Zone is home to 22 companies manufacturing everything from bicycles to plastic bags. The site also states that the SEZ has its own security force.

“The MSEZ established the security force with authority according to the law of the government, responsible for coping with disputes, maintaining public security…. The bureau will hire security companies to be in service of each company,” the SEZ’s website states.

Larry Kao, managing director of the Manhattan SEZ, declined to comment.

Ken Loo, secretary-general of the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia, of which Kaoway is a member, said the factory hires its own security guards and does not use SEZ security forces. He insisted that Kaoway’s guards do not carry guns and said the gunman was probably not a factory guard.

“It is highly unlikely that it was one of their security guards,” Mr. Loo said, adding that he would not comment on protesting workers, but would comment on the “rioting.”

“In Phnom Penh, we see protests all the time. It doesn’t have to end up…with workers breaking windows and burning things,” Mr. Loo said. “That’s not striking. That’s violence, and it’s illegal.”

Moeun Tola, head of the Community Legal Education Center’s labor project, said the protesters did not deserve to be shot at no matter what the level of violence during the protest.

“We do not support that the protest is violent, but the [gun] fire should not be opened also,” he said. “If you look at their demands…it’s all those kind of fundamental rights that should be implemented by the factory. There should be intervention by the government in a peaceful way.”

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